The Women’s Library Zine Fest is coming up fast with all the ass kickin’, alternative press, and feminism making way in London. I am going to have a stall and be running a workshop on Survivor Zines. I hope that some of you can come along and say hello, trade some zines, or fill me in on your latest way of bringin’ about some change. Also, for those of you attending who want some of my zines if you e-mail me asap and let me know which ones you want I can put them aside for you and give them to you on the day (hooray for avoiding hefty postage costs). Otherwise, here’s the blurb about the workshop…
Survivor Zines: A discussion session on zines as a tool of self-expression, community support and active resistance for survivors of sexual violence. A look at how we can form more supportive communities and responses for survivors. Sarah Tea-Rex has written and compiled zines on surviving childhood sexual abuse, mental health, queer and trans youth resistance, reproductive autonomy, and unemployment. This discussion is open to people of all genders, to survivors and to their allies. A trained support person will also be present during the workshop.
In my last post I was excitedly nattering about all the zine happenings in my life. Among these was hearing from Microcosm that they wanted to distro a zine of mine. Somehow the background on the founder and collective member Joe Biel being an abuse perpetrator had passed me by and I hadn’t a clue until one of my friends told me about it. I got some background information into what has been going on. On this basis, I have decided to boycott Microcosm, as well as register my complaint with them, and I encourage you to do the same. In order to explain this decision and demonstrate my protest, I am posting here the e-mail I have sent in response to Microcosm.
To Sparky/Microcosm Collective,
When I first received your e-mail that you were interested in my Get a Grip zine I was totally thrilled. Not only because it’s quite the compliment but also because I was excited about the possibility of my zine reaching a whole new group of folks. What an awesome way to start off the New Year, I thought. Then my friend told me about Joe Biel who, as I’m sure you’re aware, has been called out by his ex-partner as having been abusive towards her. His ex-partner has clearly and openly stated that she does not believe that he has acknowledged, taken responsibility for, and worked through changing these abusive patterns of behaviour. Despite this ongoing abusiveness, he continues to be a part of the Microcosm collective.
As a feminist, as an abuse survivor, and as a compassionate human being I believe supporting survivors of violence is paramount. This is a belief that is really fundamental to my life. Honouring the experience and wishes of the survivor needs to be central. I therefore cannot ethically provide Microcosm with any of my zines and I want to explain to you why.
I encourage people who have been called out for abuse to seek to change. I do not endorse punishment or social exclusion as solutions to violence. I do, however, expect that abusers learn to be responsible for their actions and to go through a process of changing their dangerous thoughts and behaviours. The person called out for abusive behaviour should respect the survivor’s boundaries; step down from attending events, projects, and contact with the individual if this is requested. I also expect the community in which the survivor is a part of to support and prioritise the needs and desires of the survivor, over that of the abuse perpetrator. While I appreciate this may be difficult for the abuser, it is important to understand that their behaviours come with consequences. I do not feel the need to cushion the experience of abusers at the expense of the healing process of survivors.
I have seen that the Microcosm collective has recently issued a statement about Joe’s abusiveness. Unfortunately, this statement was issued on an obscure website, instead of your own website, and was done so months after it having first been requested, and only after pressure from Cindy to withdraw her zines from your distro. This comes across to me as more of a defensive tactic then a proactive commitment towards accountability and support in response to abuse.
I really respect Alex, Cindy and others for having the courage to speak out against the way in which both the collective and Joe have responded to his abusiveness, especially given the sexist resistance that permeates so much of the discourse around violence. I find it really saddening that your collective has fallen so short of creating a supportive environment for abuse survivors. It is puzzling and frustrating to me that Microcosm would choose to select Get a Grip for distribution when there is a piece specifically on domestic violence perpetrators needing to confront their abusiveness and when the zine so clearly demonstrates the hardships of dealing with the after-effects abuse can have on survivors. It appears to me that your supposed ideals are inconsistent with your actions.
I write my zines because I am passionate about creating change. I write about topics like mental health and surviving abuse, which are really difficult for me to open up about and share with complete strangers. I do it because I want to challenge a society that repeatedly shames, blames, and silences us. I do it because every once in a while someone tells me that they feel a little less alone knowing someone else has been there, too. The amazing part is, in those moments I also feel less lonely and like we’re collectively working towards something bigger and better in dismantling all the violence. It’s disheartening for me to think that because of Joe’s abusiveness my zines, and the topics they discuss, won’t be accessed by many people and are therefore being funnelled through this systematic silencing of survivors once more. I had hoped for better in the zine community.
I think Microcosm, as one of the biggest zine distributors in the world, has so much potential in reaching out to new people, and exposing them to alternative, anti-oppressive, and totally inspiring art. I believe as a community, as creators of media, and as individuals, we all have a responsibility to support abuse survivors and those who have been targets of oppression. I will not supply Microcosm with any of my zines or make any purchases from Microcosm until I am convinced that the collective is also dedicated, both in word and action, to supporting abuse survivors. I know it is not easy but I hope you take this as an opportunity to demonstrate how communities and collectives can organize to foster supportive, radical environments instead of maintaining the same old injustices.
Cheers, Sarah Tea-Rex
If you would like any more information about radical communities and holding abuse perpetrators accountable here is a resource I would recommend world+without+sexual+assault. Please note that as far as I’m aware Joe has not been called out for sexual abuse and so, while there are similarities, also note that emotional abuse and sexual abuse do differ.